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Saturday, 13 September 2008

Caio Review

Unless you have been under a rock for the last week (or in the wilds of Scotland, as I was), you can hardly have failed to have caught the publication of Francesco Caio's review of Barriers to Investment in NGA, and the news and blogosphere commentary on it. There is too much to comment upon in a single post, but suffice to say, it bears reading. However, there are a couple of points that spring to mind as part of the 'rural lobby' that Caio mentions in the report.

Firstly, apparently no-one lives further than 5.1km from an exchange in the UK. Rot! Our whole village is situated more than that from the exchange, as are many, many others, who therefore have no chance of benefitting from ADSL2+, and who should have been more deeply considered in the report when dismiising the need for FTTH investment at this point in time. We are, it seems, now a minority group (the digitally excluded) and our problems must be addressed by government et al, with the same enthusiasm that other minority groups are.

Secondly, the lack of demand shown in some of the graphs for video etc fails entirely to take into account that many of us "just don't bother" with video/films because our connections are incapable of downloading films in under a couple of days. Upload the videos from the recent trip to Scotland once home? Not a chance, and as for trying to put the photos and videos onto Flickr over a wireless network in Oban...pah.

Third point: wireless has to be an integral part of the first phase (at least) of NGA, hence the adoption of the term FiWi showing the need for wireless. (See previous posts on the matter) However, the poverty of existing wireless infrastructure (mobile coverage in rural Scotland this last week was patchy to say the least) and even technologies such as HSDPA, 3G and so on, are not going to bring the bandwidth that consumers need now.

And, finally, that old bug bear again: consumers were not properly included, as ever, in the Caio review, judging by the list of organisations/individuals contacted. Ask us what we need true broadband for and we will tell you. (No sign of the Federation of Small Businesses, CLA, Teleworkers Association, CMA for instance in the list on pp 73-75 - only "Industry" - very telling).

As a small business owner, looking at present, for instance, to use developers in India for several purposes, I am unable to upload the training videos which will bring them up to speed fast enough to start offering additional products and services this year to clients. I cannot video conference with my next door neighbour, let alone India or London. This means unnecessary trips to meetings because I have no choice but to do that, and that has an environmental and economic impact - personally, for my business and for the country. I cannot pay tax on money that I have not earned because it has been spent on train tickets, flights, and so on, but that would have gone to the Treasury if I had been able to work more efficiently on a decent connection. This is so blindingly obvious that I wonder it is not mentioned more often.

As a family, my teenagers are unable to do many of the things their peers and friends can, be they in London or rural Jutland in Denmark. This is not just frustrating, but also affects their progress in school, which will inevitably affect their career choices and the contribution they are able to make in future to the economy. It is also highly likely that we will see a drain of talent to other nations where the standard of living, choices etc are higher, particularly from this generation of kids brought up in an ever smaller world, who see and hear about services and choices available to their friends in other countries.

And as an aside: BSG have also decided to almost double their figure for 100% UK FTTH, despite having been fairly adamant for years that the cost would be around the £15Bn mark. One feels somewhat aggrieved that this sudden doubling of the costs means that the telcos will now play the FTTC card over and over again, and sweat the copper asset for yet more years to come, thereby doing the population out of the chance to get a decent infrastructure. One can only ask if there is a hidden agenda about this sudden rise, and the answer is a tad worrying....more later when I have calmed down a little!

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